By CHRIS TOMLINSON - Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) Saddam Hussein's trial will resume on
schedule despite the slaying of two defense lawyers and the threat by others
to boycott the proceedings over an alleged lack of security, a senior Iraqi
judicial official said Sunday.
The court is ready to appoint a new team if defense lawyers fail to
appear, added Raid Juhi, one of the judges on the special tribunal trying
the former dictator and others.
Saddam's team said in a statement earlier in the day that about
1,100 Iraqi lawyers had withdrawn from the defense, arguing that inadequate
protection was evident after the killings of two attorneys who were
defending co-defendants of the ousted leader.
The statement did not say if those lawyers included Saddam's chief
Iraqi attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, but it said other team members continued
their duties "under complex and dangerous circumstances." Al-Dulaimi
suggested last week that defense lawyers would not show up for the next
session Nov. 28.
The attorneys who withdrew were among some 1,500 enlisted to help
Saddam's defense, mostly researching legal precedents, preparing briefs and
performing other tasks outside the courtroom, said Jordanian lawyer Ziad
al-Khasawneh, who was once part of the defense team.
Juhi said the defense threat "will not affect the work of the
court." He said the Iraqi High Tribunal is ready to appoint new defense
lawyers if none appear.
"We have many legal experts and lawyers, and (the court) will choose
from among them" to defend Saddam and the others, he said.
That could result in further delays, Juhi conceded, saying
replacement lawyers could ask the court to postpone the trial to give them
time to prepare their case.
Still, the defense moves could leave the proceedings in disarray,
embarrassing both the Iraqi government and the United States, which have
insisted that Saddam face justice in his homeland before his own people.
If the court appoints new attorneys, Saddam will refuse to accept
them and the trial will degenerate into "a total farce," Abdel-Haq Alani, a
London-based lawyer who is a leading member of the defense team, told The
Associated Press by phone.
"The trial would proceed in the absence of the defendant because the
defendant would refuse to cooperate," Alani said. "They might as well
sentence them without a trial."
Saddam and seven others went on trial Oct. 19 in the killing of 148
Shiite Muslims who were executed in 1982 after a failed assassination
attempt against the Iraqi leader in Dujail, a Shiite town north of Baghdad.
If convicted, they could be executed by hanging.
One day after the trial began, a defense lawyer was abducted from
his office by 10 masked gunmen and his body was found the next day. A second
defense lawyer was shot dead and another wounded in an ambush in Baghdad
Government spokesman Laith Kubba said defense lawyers have twice
turned down invitations to move to the Green Zone, where they could be
protected by U.S. and other international troops. Iraqi President Jalal
Talabani renewed that invitation last week.
There is debate over whether Saddam's trial can be held fairly in
Iraq during the insurgency.
Michael Newton, a former State Department war crimes lawyer, said
moving the trial would be "an abdication to those who want to substitute
anarchy instead of the rule of law."
"The defense lawyers were offered protection and refused," Newton, a
professor of law at Vanderbilt University, said. "So they can't have it both
ways: They can't decline the protection they were offered and then say that
the circumstances are unsafe."
But Laura Dickinson, an associate professor at the University of
Connecticut School of Law, believes the trial ought to be moved. She
suggested the United Arab Emirates as a possible venue because judges in
Saddam's trial were trained there.
Elise Groulx, president of the International Criminal Defense
Attorneys Association, also said the violence is a troubling factor.
"Is Baghdad a war zone? That is a question that the judges and Iraqi
government must answer," Groulx said.
Moving the trial to another country _ assuming one could be found to
accept it _ would require Iraq's parliament to amend the law that
established the court.
Saddam's lawyers have called for creation of a special international
court, but that would require action by the U.N. Security Council, where the
United States wields a veto.
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said
abandoning the Iraqi High Tribunal would undermine Iraq's government.
"They want to conduct this trial under their own national
authorities, and I think the people who have undertaken these terrorist
assassinations obviously are trying to undercut the Iraqi judicial
institutions," Bolton told AP.